Tuesday, May 31, 2005


Revelation in the Text

God's revelation to us is the text of Scripture. While the events described in Scripture may have constituted God's revelation to the people who experienced them, those events are not Scripture. We need to be careful to draw our theology and lessons for godly living from the words of the Bible, not from our attempts to reconstruct the events the Bible talks about.

Example: In the garden of Eden God told Adam and Eve (and the serpent) that the seed of the woman would crush the serpent's head. This was a revelation to them about God's character and plan. It was not a revelation to Cain and Abel (or to us), because they (and we) weren't there to hear it. Adam and Eve may have recounted the story of what God said to their children and grandchildren. That story may have been retold many times through the generations--with greater or lesser accuracy. None of those tellings can be considered "The Word of God." They would be, at best, a version of the story of the event which was a revelation to Adam and Eve.

However, when the Spirit of God inspired Moses in the writing of Genesis, the written text of Moses became God's official, inerrant version of the event and the official Torah (instruction) from God to all readers. It was from that moment on "The Word of God." God revealed to us all that He thought important for us to know about the event and all that we need to know to understand God and to live godly lives (when combined with all other inspired Scripture, of course). Later, Isaiah, Paul, and John wrote additional Scriptures about the event in the garden. As these were written, they increased the amount of revelation from God about believers' appropriate faith and practice.

Archaeological findings, noninspired texts from the ancient near east, and lucky guesses about these events might confirm the accuracy of the Biblical account. They also might help us to reconstruct details about the events that are omitted from the Bible. But, neither these extraBiblical sources nor the reconstructed stories they lead to are God's revelation to us. It is dangerous to build our understanding of God (or our ideas of how God wants us to live) on details the Spirit-guided authors of Scripture did not give us. Also, we should not base our theology or practice on interpretations of details they did not give us.

Occasionally it is legitimate to supply some “Bible Background” material, due to losses in translation. We lose some understanding of the text by going from one language to another, such as nuances of definition and sentence structure. We also lose something by going from one era to another (Iron Age to Space Age, for example), such as the historical and geographical realities that would have been immediately known by the original readers. We also lose something by going from one culture to another (agrarian to urban, for example), such as understanding how food was prepared or how families operated.

The supply of this missing information may be necessary, but it is risky, because it is an opportunity to distort the text's meaning by adding details that the author chose to omit. How sure can we be that the background information we give helps to clarify, rather than changes the meaning or emphasis?

Because God speaks to us through the words and sentences of the Bible, it is important to read with our eyes open.

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